Taste the Grapes at Cantina Del Ponte.
Guest Post by Simon Narracott:
I have been to Cantina del Ponte before, as part of the London Blackout 2013 Festival, so I was happy to return again for one of their regular Castello Banfi wine tasting events.
The restaurant is located on Shad Street, next to Tower Bridge, one of the oldest streets in London that has retained its look and feel from centuries ago, even with the original cobbles. In the evening, as the light goes down, the area has a classic Gothic feel, yet sitting opposite the illuminations of Tower Bridge and the new buildings, it is like being in two different times at once. As you can expect, the view from the restaurant is amazing.
Inside the restaurant, it is open and inviting, with very much a family orientated feel. It is somewhere you could take your girlfriend and her parents and know that everyone would feel compfortable. The manager at Cantina is Corrado Lamanuzzi, who welcomes each guest with a warm handshake and a great smile. His staff clearly follow his passion for great service and great food, and having arrived a bit early I grabbed a picture of Corrado and his team before the diners started to arrive.
Corrado explained that Cantina del Ponte was an Italian Reastaurant, creating the best food from across Italy. However he had a passion for Tuscany, its food and its wine, and introduced me to Dante Cecchini, of Castello Banfi. Castello Banfi is the largest vineyard estate in Italy, located on the southern slopes of Montalcino, Tuscany. The estate comprises hundreds of smaller vineyards, each with its own regional terroir and style, which allows them to grow and select the best grapes to make the best range of regional wines.
There were about 20 guests at the wine tasting, with a complete range of ages and expectations. Certainly no wine-snobs, but people looking to have good wine with good food. And that is certainly what we got.
The grapes used to produce the wines we were to taste had been brought over from Tuscany, having been cut fresh from the vines. This is certainly the first time I, or any of the other guests, had experienced a tasting in this manner, and we were all eager to see what we could experience and learn. Dante Cecchini explained that the size of the berries and how tightly they were packed affected their taste and harvesting. The smaller the berry the darker the wine, and the more packed the berry the better it resists rain and can be left to ripen longer on the vine.
We started with a very interesting Banfi Fontanelle Chardonnay, with an antipasti of Guazzetto di gamberoni al pomodoro, sadly no grapes to try as they had already been harvested earlier in the month. This is a wine to come back to as it was a much more robust and full wine than you would expect of a typical Chardonnay.
Our first red was a Banfi Rosso di Montachino, made with 100% Sangiovese grape. The Sangiovese has larger berries, tightly packed, that to the taste offer a short beautiful light fruitiness of violet and plum, before becoming all skin and seed. On tasting the wine, the flavor of the berry leads straight into the flavor of the wine – you could taste the natural progression, and it surprised us all how close the link was. The matching food in this case was Risotto ai funghi, creamy enough to be full of flavor, and harmonious with the wine.
Our second red was the Banfi Belnero, made with 90% Sangiovese grape, and 10% of the smaller berried Cabernet grape. The smaller berries made for a darker wine, and tasting then shower a much deeper and darker fruit taste – plum and prune with coffee (its all very subjective and much discussion on the tastes ensued). Note, Belnero means ‘beautiful dark’ in Italian, and reflects the generalization of the passion for this wine. The matching food in this case was Guancia di manzo arrosto con faro (slow roast beef cheek) which was superb. The beef fell apart on the fork, and really brought out the flavours in the wine. This was a superb pairing.
For the dessert, an Amaretti biscuit parfait with chocolate sauce, we sampled the Banfi Lorus Moscadello di Montalcino DOC late harvest dessert wine. The Muscat grapes, tightly packed with medium berry, had the aroma of a Muscat wine before we had even tried them, so fruity and scented they are. The grapes used in the Florus were still drying on the vine, so we could only sample an earlier picking, but it gave us a very clear link between the grape and the wine. The Florus was much lighter than many dessert wines, and not at all syrupy as many are, which worked well with the delicate dessert. Definitely worth trying again, and gave a nice finish to the meal.
By the end of the evening, there had been much good conversation, much had been learnt and tasted, and everyone was in good spirits, with a feeling of joviality as if having had a traditional family supper. This was a novel way to taste wine, but one which worked so well that it surprises me it has not been done before.
Banfi wine tasting occurs every month at Cantina, sampling different wines in different formats so no two evenings are the same.
Cantina del Ponte
36c Shad Thames
London SE1 2YE
020 7403 5403